Q&A: Should a mL@H family switch strategy to support a child’s school language?

by | Jan 21, 2018 | Coaches, Marianna DuBosq, Q&A Choosing the right family language strategy, School-aged children | 2 comments

Should a mL@H family switch strategy to support a child’s school language?

 

Question

Hello,

My husband and I live in Chicago and both speak Spanish and English. My native language is English and his is Spanish. We have both spoken to our 19-Month-old daughter in Spanish since birth as we figured that eventually she would inevitably learn English from her grandparents, friends, media etc. She also attends a Spanish speaking daycare except for once a week when her English-speaking grandmother takes care of her.

We were convinced we were making the right choice of speaking to her solely in Spanish until I realized that for kindergarten she will have to take a test to determine her eligibility for certain (gifted/magnet) programs in the Chicago public school system. If she does not speak the school language, English, at the time of these tests I am worried she will be at a disadvantage.

Although I know this is a few years away, I am wondering if I should start speaking to her in English so that she is bilingual at five years old.

I appreciate your help in advance!
Annie

Answer

Dear Annie,

Thank you for submitting your question and for taking the steps to plan ahead for your daughter’s language journey! Chicago Public Schools is actually where my journey as a dual language educator started so I am thrilled to have the opportunity to answer this question for you.

I second you in your desire to ensure that your daughter has the ability to put her best foot forward whenever challenged with an assessment. Here is the good news: You can still help her learn her school language without necessarily changing your language policy in your home!

As you pointed out, you still have a long road ahead until the time comes and your daughter’s language vocabulary is going to explode from now until then. Therefore, there are many opportunities that you can intentionally provide so that her exposure to English helps her reach the level of fluency that you desire.

The presence of a community language is strong, and it is something that you will always be up against. I would hate for you to make a switch and then regret it. Once you make the switch to a community language, it is really difficult to go back. Something to also consider is that your daughter may too regret that you made the switch.

With that in mind, let’s get tactical on what you can do to ensure she is getting the right dose of English while you continue to speak Spanish to her. You can enrol her in activities in the community. These opportunities will increase as she gets older and more programming is available for her age group. You can set up play dates with English-speaking children. You can expose here to media via videos, apps, YouTube to name a few. You will essentially do the same things we try to do to infuse more of the target language but instead with the community language. Here are a few more ideas on how to introduce the community language without it coming from you.

My hunch is that you will find that she will pick up English even faster than you can imagine. The community language has a tendency to creep up when you least expect it. Just make sure that you find a balance where you still present opportunities for her to keep up her Spanish. It’s a juggling act for sure but you will find a rhythm that works for the family.

Remember that language learning is a journey. You can still decide to switch your strategy later on if her abilities in her futures school language are not where you would like them to be. You can make a decision today and revisit it in six months or a year depending on her progress. For now, I would recommend that you still continue to lay a foundation in Spanish and reassess in a few months.

Keep up the good work with the Spanish, it will pay off!

Marianna

Marianna Du Bosq

Marianna Du Bosq

Marianna Du Bosq was born in Caracas, Venezuela where she spent the majority of her childhood as a monolingual speaking only Spanish. Until one day, right before her thirteen birthday, her family moved to the United States and her adventure and passion for language learning began! Her love for languages started with her own experience and grew into a desire for teaching others leading her to spend several years in the classroom teaching dual language learners. She is now facing the most challenging yet rewarding facet of her life, that of a multilingual parent with a mix of English, Spanish and German! Marianna is the blogger and podcast host at Bilingual Avenue where she interviews multilingual parents sharing their best practices along with experts in the field of multilingualism providing actionable tips and strategy. She has a Master’s in Education with an emphasis in Curriculum and Instruction.

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Thank you so much Marianna! This was a tremendous help. We will continue to speak Spanish to Lucia and feel even more confident in this choice, thanks to you!

    One more question I have is if I should strictly stick to speaking Spanish when I am with her at an English speaking play date or with my English speaking family, for example? Or is it okay for me to switch to English at those times?

    Reply
  2. Avatar

    Annie,

    I am glad you found the answer helpful! Here’s the wonderful thing about developing a family language policy… you can create one that works just for you and the needs of YOUR family.

    If you feel more comfortable switching to English during those encounters with the community language then do so. It really depends on your level of comfort. I always caution that every time you switch to the community language you lose an opportunity to expose your child to the target language. But that’s not a hard rule. It’s a fact of life but we can make up for those instances in other cases.

    I can tell you what works for me. When I first meet another family that is not as familiar with our family dynamic I repeat everything in both languages but as they get to know us and understand how we are raising our kids, I start transitioning to only Spanish.

    My recommendation is to try out different approaches until you find one that feels good for you. That’s how you know you have made the right choice. I hope that helps!

    Reply

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